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Dancing With The Stars

Olympians, Actors, or Singers: Which Type of DWTS Contestant Always Does Best?

What does it take to win Dancing with the Stars? The “best” dancer doesn’t always win. The most charismatic person doesn’t even always win. There’s no 1 + 1 = 2 formula out there, although pairing with a member of the Hough family seems to help.

There have been 11 seasons of DWTS to date. Out of the winners, we’ve had two actresses, three singer/pop stars, four athletes, one model, and one race car driver. Are there any patterns to their wins? Yeah, but there are a lot of contradictions, too. Let’s take a look.

All hail the Olympians: The most obvious pattern is Olympians — they already have the physical stamina and discipline for the notoriously challenging DWTS schedule. You could argue that Kristi Yamaguchi and Shawn Johnson didn’t have the same charm and personality as their respective runners-up, Jason Taylor and Gilles Marini, but they both partnered with Mark Ballas and were able to bounce through his high-energy, technically flawless routines. Plus, Olympians are all very well trained in handling media — answering all questions in short, innocuous, family friendly soundbites. They know just what to say and how to say it.

On the other hand, Evan Lysacek is a gold medal-winning Olympian who fit the perfect-technique quota to a T and he was beat by pop star Nicole Scherzinger. Both Evan and Nicole entered the competition with a leg up over the competition in that they were both physically prepared for the fluid motions required. But Nicole showed more emotion and versatility and had a more creative choreographer (no offense, Anna!) in Derek Hough. Added together, Nicole was dubbed a ringer from day one.

Attitude is key: Nicole almost lost her title due to her melodramatic personality. Fans didn’t appreciate her sob story about how she’s an artist and different from other people. But she was able to recover from that. Fellow pop star Mya was a similar perfectionist who lost to happy-go-lucky Donny Osmond probably because Mya was a little too good right off the bat and came off as occasionally smug and emotionally closed-off. Fans like to see the dancer’s journey — the highs and lows — and feel like the dancer is working hard to earn his or her win. And when it comes down to two high-energy, positive dancers — like Mario Lopez and Emmitt Smith — fans occasionally back the appealing underdog, in this case Emmitt, for his gradual improvement over time. And having Cheryl Burke as a partner certainly helped.


The power of performers: It also helps when you enter the show with previous dance experience and singer/performers (as well as some actors) have that. Nicole Scherzinger, Drew Lachey, and Donny Osmond were already familiar with performing various routines in front of audiences, and actress Jennifer Grey is famous for a film with “Dancing” right in the title. It was clear from her first performance that she was already a superior dancer to her competitors — and she had the bonus of Derek Hough to take her even further.

On the other hand, no one likes an anointing. It can hurt a dancer to be too good right off the bat, especially if they never have a low point to recover from — again, Zendaya is a perfect case.

Conclusion: All told, if you want to win DWTS you need a creative and charismatic choreographer; an engaging personality; natural dance ability that visibly improves over time; and the discipline to keep going and perfect your technique during the grueling schedule — without sounding like you’re whining about it. Good luck, Season 17 stars!

Here is our current list of winners. See what patterns you can come up with:

Season 1

Winner: Kelly Monaco

Profession: Actress

Season 2

Winner: Drew Lachey

Profession: Pop star

Season 3

Winner: Emmitt Smith

Profession: Football player

Season 4

Winner: Apolo Anton Ohno

Profession: Olympic speed skater

Season 5

Winner: Helio Castroneves

Profession: Race car driver

Season 6

Winner: Kristi Yamaguchi

Profession: Olympic figure skater

Season 7

Winner: Brooke Burke

Profession: Model

Season 8

Winner: Shawn Johnson

Profession: Olympic gymnast

Season 9

Winner: Donny Osmond

Profession: Singer/performer

Season 10

Winner: Nicole Scherzinger

Profession: Pop star

Season 11

Winner: Jennifer Grey

Profession: Actress

Season 13

Winner: J.R. Martinez

Profession: Actor/motivational speaker/war hero/greatest human being alive.

Season 14

Winner: Donald Driver

Profession: Football player

Season 15: All-Stars

Winner: Melissa Rycroft

Profession: Reality personality

Season 16

Winner: Kellie Pickler

Profession: Singer

In case you're keeping track, athletes seem to take home the Mirror Ball more often than other performers. But maybe that will change this season...